Years ago we covered using thermite to destroy a hard drive. The idea is that if you melt through the platters, the data is completely unrecoverable. There are tons of videos of people doing this, but they all have a similar format. There’s a hard drive, with a flower pot or soda can sitting on top full of thermite. They then light this with a strip of magnesium and a torch.
I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to implement thermite as a self destruct mechanism inside the device. To do this, I had to come up with a way to ignite the thermite. This stuff is very difficult to light. You have to get it really really hot. The easiest way is to use magnesium, which itself isn’t the easiest thing to light.
What I finally landed on was an ignition system that uses model rocket igniters, gun powder, and magnesium to light the thermite. The model rocket igniter can be set off from the 12v line inside your computer. However, it isn’t hot enough to light magnesium shavings, much less thermite. To get it to work, I needed to add some gunpowder. A small amount of gun powder would get hot enough to light the magnesium shavings, which in turn were hot enough to light the thermite. I had to be careful though, because too much gunpowder would cause a rapid expansion, blowing the thermite everywhere instead of lighting it. You can actually see some red thermite being blown out of the external hard drive and the laptop as the gunpowder ignites.
Effectiveness of external hard drive self destruction
I wasn’t sure about this one. There isn’t a whole lot of space for thermite and the ignition system inside the box. On top of that, the only space was at the side of the hard drive, where the walls are the thickest. I had no idea if the small amount of thermite I used would penetrate the drive. It did, just barely as you can see in these pictures. It looks as if it pooled in the screw holes and made it inside. The platters are damaged.
Effectiveness of laptop destruction
I decided to completely replace the CD-ROM with thermite. This gave me a ton of space to put things. I was pretty positive this would work. The hard drive is in the center of this laptop, which meant I had to place it on its side for this to be effective. You can see the thermite work its way down toward the drive in the video. As you can see in the pictures below, the drive cover is completely gone and the platters are destroyed. Success!
Since this system can be powered by batteries or the internal power of your computer, it can be put inside a working device only to be used when needed. Obviously it is a ridiculous fire hazard that no one should bother with. It was a fun experiment though and I really feel like it is something that would fit in well in the world of James Bond.